The wonderful journey to adopting a child can often start with fostering, which is one of the main ways gay, bi and trans men choose to form their families.
This November, which is National Adoption Month, there are over 400,000 children living in foster care in the U.S., all in need of a loving, safe home. Every year, 23,000 of them age out of the system when they reach either 18 or 21, depending on the state. As a result, former foster youth have much higher rates of joblessness, homelessness, drug use, incarceration, and more. Research also shows a disproportionate number of older youth in the foster care system identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
On Season 2 Episode 2 of Gays With Kids the Podcast, GWK Executive Editor David Dodge talks to Angel Petite, Senior Policy Manager at Foster Club, and former foster youths and Foster Club 'Lived Experience Leaders' Ernesto Olivares and Izzy Moncada, about how gay dads and dads-to-be can support older LGBTQ+ foster kids. (Listen here.)
Moncada, who identifies as nonbinary, was in foster care from 5 months old to 21 years old. They said when foster kids age out, they often lose a lot of the crucial services they were getting.
"Sometimes we aren't actually prepared to age out," Moncada said. "And I feel like it causes a lot of barriers."
Since so many foster youth who are close to aging out of the system identify as LGBTQ+, Dodge said the LBTQ+ community arguably has a responsibility to care for and support these queer foster kids.
“Because so many of these young people identify as queer and trans, this is an issue we as a community need to take more seriously,” Dodge explained. “We don’t have great data yet on how youth in the foster care system identify — but in New York, one study found 30 percent of youth identify as LGBTQ. The reasons likely vary, but one is definitely due to these young people being rejected by their families and kicked out of their homes.”
Olivares, a gay man who was in foster care from age 12, is now a Lived Experience Leader (LEx Leader) with Foster Club, an organization devoted to improving the lives of current and former foster youth. (Moncada is also a LEx Leader with the organization.)
Olivares has previously spoken to Congress about how foster youth can be better supported. On GWK the Podcast, he said it’s important for LGBTQ+ folks who are considering expanding their family to think about becoming foster parents, whether or not adoption follows.
“It’s necessary, so that people who have similar experiences [to] myself can have that opportunity to have loving families, just as some of these heterosexual kids do,” Olivares said. “Adoption wasn’t an option for me. Nobody wants to adopt a 14 or 15 year old.”
On S2E2 of GWK the Podcast, Petite also covered other ways gay parents and parents-to-be can support LGBTQ+ foster youth as a non-foster parent, including being a mentor, and supporting the proposed Chafee Extension Bill, which would continue to provide funds for older foster youth during the pandemic.
“This new bill provides an additional $400 million in funds and extends all the flexibilities that allow more youth to receive emergency resources. It also ensures that those resources aren’t counted against other federal benefits,” she said. “The initial $400 million allocated last year provided lifesaving support to young people across the nation.”
With this proposed bill extension, Foster Club said young adults exiting out of the foster care system largely alone and with little to no resources could continue receiving the critical financial resources they need to survive.
“COVID-19 has severely affected young people transitioning out of foster care, causing housing and employment loss, food insecurity, health care challenges and all the implications of extreme isolation,” the organization said. “In the midst of the pandemic, FosterClub polled nearly 500 young people from 43 states with lived experience in foster care about the challenges they were facing. The results were alarming. To further compound the issues, many of these young adults lack the kinds of significant relationships that others can rely on for financial or emotional support.”
Listen to the full episode of Gays With Kids the Podcast below, or search on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitchr, or wherever you get podcasts.